‘I want to watch football,’ my son announces as he arrives in from school. This is a surprise, to say the least. I love football, but lack the channels to watch many matches before his bedtime, so his experience of it in our house has been relatively meagre, and has provoked near perfect complacency within him in all that time. Now, he’s been turned on to the beautiful game by football-mad schoolfriends, who appear to be the kind of four-year olds who rank their weekend’s accumulators, and squabble over Gareth Southgate’s selections.
His interest is so low, in fact, that he’s previously had a hard time differentiating football from all other programming he dislikes, which he terms the ‘news’. The ‘news’ is anything that isn’t CBeebies, including The Crown, Bargain Hunt and any of the 8,000 Netflix series my wife watches featuring attractive teens with magic powers and inscrutably complex personal relationships.
Football, too, was the ‘news’, until quite recently, when I finally managed to get across to him that it was sport, but that lead to him bundling in every other sport on top. So rugby is ‘football’, as is darts, cycling and an unintended foray into cricket, almost always used in the ‘Can we not watch football, please, Daddy?’ sense.
Now that he wants to watch it, I feel unprepared. I scramble to turn to the limited sports channels we have and am delighted to find a re-run of West Ham’s recent European tie with Steaua Bucharest (now branded FCSB due to a legal dispute with the Romanian army, which I would dearly love to go into right now but am fighting every sinew in my body to restrain myself from so doing).
‘FOOTBALL!’ he shouts as the second half kicks off. ‘Are we supporting the red team?’ he asks, as West Ham are playing in their away kit, and his knowledge of my support of Liverpool begins and ends with the knowledge they wear red. Still stunned, I say that yes, this will be fine for today’s purposes.
‘They goaled!’ he screams as Divin Mubama pulls off a diving header, my son sticking his hands skyward in a manner he usually reserves only for when he is presented with chips. I fight the urge to correct him on ‘goaled’ as this might distract from the endorphin onslaught in front of me; a person experiencing a goal, the concept of a goal, for the very first time, and by his beloved West Ham Reds, no less.
‘They’re cuddling!’ he says, as the camera cuts to jubilant players embracing Mubama. ‘Yes, players love to cuddle when they score a goal,’ I tell him. ‘Really?’ he says, overcome with joy at the thought. ‘Rewind!’ he shouts. ‘Rewind!’ As I do, I fondly imagine years of taking him to games or making him watch goal compilations from Liverpool and Ireland legends of the past, with him cheering, shrieking and begging me to replay the gangly worldies of Robbie Keane and Ray Houghton.
I bring it back to the goal’s buildup and he looks concerned. He puts his tiny hand on mine, as if to say that’s not what he’s after. ‘The cuddle,’ he says, ‘put it back to the cuddle.’
It’s a start, at least.
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats